Motivation: Unmotivated or Motivated Differently

One of the more difficult things in working with others is determining their true source of motivation. Motivation comes from within. It is not something given to you. A coach, a parent or a boss can only work at creating an environment that optimizes your own motivation. Believe it or not, everyone is motivated. We just seek or avoid different things for different payoffs. The second part that is difficult to realize and put into practice is an approach and philosophy that “there is no such thing as good or bad” motivators. We are motivated differently. This means that what motivates me, may not motivate you. Do not pass judgment; we can still both wind up with the same ends.

Tapping into one’s motivation is not always easy and what motivates you may change over time. It can be a moving target. There are some assessments (i.e. The Motivation Profile) that do a nice job of assisting you to find this out.

Most typical motivation topics (and speakers) attack the issue of motivation in one way – have goals, make a plan, take actions each day and you’ll be successful. Though this is a partial answer (we do know that goal setting is a critical element to success) it is very limited. Motivation speakers get people all riled up and ready to go talking about “achieving” or “reaching” goals and being “successful”. These are what are called “towards” behaviors. You strive to attain something because of a reward of some kind. However, we are also motivated by “away from” behaviors. We avoid some things in order not to have a bad consequence. For instance we drive the speed limit to avoid a ticket not to get a reward. Neither is a good or bad motivation. Applied to running, we may run to avoid weight gain, heart attacks, or strokes or control diabetes. We can also run to go further, faster, get stronger, be with friends or have more energy or fit into a certain sized clothes. In either case, we can be good runners, or not.

Here are some other dimensions of motivation to optimize your efforts.

Some of us are more task oriented and others are more outcome oriented. A task oriented person will stick to it by counting laps, splits and paces. The outcome oriented person will be motivated by thinking about what if feels like to finish/accomplish the workout, to win a race, or to set that personal record. It is posed in most literature that task orientation is optimal. However, the key in creating that motivational environment is use the approach that works best with a given athlete.

We are also motivated differently on dimensions of people, things, places, and knowledge. You may be motivated by doing workouts with groups versus by yourself. If the obligation of meeting someone to workout gets you out there, then it works! If you enjoy having a uniform or getting awards (things) and it keeps you going by getting these things, then it works! If you enjoy the environment you run in (whether it’s your treadmill, track or trail) and the location gets you through the workout, then it works! And if learning more about what you are doing, the workouts, your diet, or even about the area you are running, if it gets you out there, then it works!

Another dimension often overlooked in conventional motivation is our propensities for keeping things the same, having some change, or wanting constant change. Some people love the predictable aspect of every Monday and Thursday track workouts and a long run on Saturday. Other people will want to change things up – different venues, different workouts and heaven forbid you run in circles on a track! Of course, in between these extremes the majority of the population enjoys some change.

Your motivational styles may change over time. I am a good example of this. Through my 20s and 30s I ran probably 98% of all my runs alone. I was able to run as hard or harder alone. I did not need anyone around to complete even the most difficult workouts. Fast forward to my 40s and I find the company of others gets me out there and pushes me when I wouldn’t otherwise. I make sure I run enough miles to keep my body weight in check as opposed to improving my aerobic conditioning. The point is this; I’m still a little competitive (as some of you can attest to) and reasonably fast (aside from the years that have slowed me down). The motivations may have changed. Know yourself and tap into what makes you get it done. So, you really aren’t unmotivated, just motivated differently.

Coach Dean


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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